We drove through the Mayenne a few times without even noticing it. The Mayenne, a department of France southeast of Mont Saint-Michel and centered on the city of Laval, is not a part of France that foreign visitors like us hear much about. The first time we went to Laval we didn’t think much of it. The second time, ditto. But once we slowed down and began taking walks along the Mayenne river, Laval and the area around it began to grow on us. We now have a favorite restaurant, a favorite bakery, a favorite B&B, and a favorite factory town in the Mayenne.
Mayenne is a city in France, in the department of the same name, along the river of the same name. Laval is the capital of the department. The Mayenne claims to be the sportiest of France’s 100 departments, and it also claims to have the most privately owned inhabited chateaux.
We’ve returned to this area for a few years to walk along the old towpath from Mayenne to Daon (85 km) and now even a little farther south. We get so much pleasure from the curving river, the old trees, cows, the occasional chateau, the lock keepers’ houses, kayakers, bikers, people fishing, the rare boat, and many lovable dogs. Lunch is always a high spot in our day, sometimes at L’Eveil des sens in Mayenne or sometimes along the river on a bench.
The whole world of lazy rivers, canals, tow paths, locks and the various canal houses and sometimes old cafés near the locks that catered to the navigators excites the imagination of just about everyone and naturally your report comes at a perfect moment, Breeze, as the season is just beginning. (For some reason, all of these areas don't always appear to be as appealing in January!)
I'll be making a quick trip right through there in a couple of weeks since I have to go to both Le Mans and Rennes, but I'll probably just see the autoroute again.
Last Edit: Nov 17, 2018 16:37:40 GMT by bixaorellana: replace smiley
I'l be interested to see a foreigner's view of Mayenne. As you say, not many tourists, although lots of Brits bought houses there when prices in southern England were so high, and so low in Mayenne's villages.
I have a special relationship with the area since I spent quite a few summers there when my children were small because my in-laws had a family house there, 20 kms from Mayenne town. This means that I don't especially want to set foot there again, although I will concede that the countryside is pleasant and green.
When I started this thread I thought I had laid out a whole report but then realized I hadn't, so I stopped and have been slow to get back to it.
bjd, I can understand why you've had your fill of the area. Forced visits would suck the fun out of just about anyplace, and I have to admit the Mayenne is low key.
The Mayenne river used to be an active shipping route. At each lock a house was built so that somebody would be there at all hours to raise and lower the water level for passing traffic. Nowadays there are only pleasure boats, and not many of those. We’ve seen only two or three boats, but a lock keeper told us a friendly couple from Hawaii comes every summer and rents a boat to go up the river and they are warmly welcomed by the lock keepers. Only a few keepers are needed now since each one can cover a few adjacent locks, going up and down the towpath as needed on a motorbike. It looks like most of the old lock keepers’ houses are empty, but one house has a very nice vegetable garden and the old apparatus for raising fish remains, though empty.
Nowadays you’re more likely to see this kind of activity on the river.
For us, the trifecta is when we find an area with a good restaurant, a good B&B, and good walking opportunities. We knew we had two out of the three and then were lucky enough to find this place to stay.
One of our all-time favorite B&Bs is Les fleurs des champs at Saint Germain le Fouilloux. The rooms are pretty, very clean, and comfortable. The host and hostess are extremely energetic–mowing, gardening, weedwacking, cleaning, doing laundry, making beautiful bouquets, preparing breakfast. Madame is warm and hospitable. She sits down at the breakfast table and joins in the conversation. We enjoy the chat even if we’re often just observers. The couple keeps a thriving vegetable and flower garden. There are climbing roses and grapevines, fruit trees, and flowering shrubs. They also have a very nice gite next door where we’ve stayed. There’s a pond with ducks, shaded by a beautiful tree which all of us regulars worry about because it’s elderly and not in great health.
I’m going to skip right over my planned introduction to the small city of Chateau-Gontier so we can get right to something wonderful. In a centrally located café, Le Bistro, are beautiful wall tiles which are on the list of historic monuments. I have read that these are unique in France, their quality surpassing those at the better known La Cigale in Nantes and similar to those in Cairo and Istanbul. Way to go, little ol’ Chateau-Gontier! E usually drinks a coffee and I enjoy the bubbles in a glass of rosé pétillant while I take photos of the delicate tiles. I’ve taken many blurry photos, which I blame on the bubbles.
Always! That's the whole point of this forum, so people can tell their stories the way they wish to tell them. I love the feeling of being led through someones experience, especially when enhanced with pictures. How to explain in only words how the old fish-raising apparatus looks, or to convey in full the loveliness of Les fleurs des champs? Your pictures and text together let the rest of us enjoy it along with you. And I am certainly grateful that your rosé pétillant-colored lenses captured the wonderful tiles.
Chateau-Gontier is my idea of a lovely town. It sits on both sides of the broad Mayenne river. The older part, on the right bank, is built on the sides and top of a steep hill. Along the narrowest, oldest street are half-timbered houses. Most of the new growth is on the left bank on level ground.
Chateau-Gontier is known for its flowers. Its roundabouts are beautifully planted. It has lush gardens right along the river as well as high up at le Jardin du Bout du Monde (which I translate as “garden at the end of the world”).
Every one of their gardens is a knockout. The town has won the top prize for Villes/Villages Fleuri so often it was asked to wait out the competition for a few years. Down along the river is the Jardin des Senteurs, part of which gets a new theme each summer. In 2018 it was dye plants; one year it was something to do with Japan.
One Thursday morning on each visit we go to the big and busy market at Chateau-Gontier with an eye out for strawberries from Brittany. There’s a section of live birds and rabbits for sale, organic and regular produce, seedlings, clothing, kitchenware, and food trucks.
The town has a festival of bande dessinee, BD, and each time we’ve visited a different BD has been featured on large panels near the mairie.
Prettier and prettier! Absolutely love the pictures of Chateau-Gontier and you are so right about the gardens all being knockouts. I am completely in love with those green arches and the remarkable raised beds, especially that diamond of fescue surrounded by rocks. I suppose the newer part of Chateau-Gontier is on what used to be farmland -- ?
Thank you, huckle. My knowledge is pretty skimpy so I appreciate your definition. I’m not a big fan of BD, but occasionally the artwork appeals to me. We went into C–G’s downtown bookstore looking for one of the Chat du Rabbin series and the clerk had lived in Austin TX. He spoke English with a bit of a Texas accent. He said if a French person is going to live in Texas, Austin is the right place.
When we plan a trip, I like to consult Monumentum, a website that pinpoints structures that are on France’s historical inventories. That’s how we found the café with the fine tiles, and that’s how we came across the oppidum of Moulay. This was a defensive structure built by the Gauls, of 20- to 30-feet high dirt ramparts, originally about 1250 feet long, which enclosed about 30 acres. This one is a big deal–it was one of the ten largest in Gaul.
There sure isn’t much of it left since a housing development took over most of the space, but the photos give some idea of how high the ramparts are and how steep the outer side was. These iron age people moved an amazing amount of stones and dirt to produce the protective mound. Here part had to be cut away to accommodate the soccer/football field. Not an iron age sport, as far as I know.
The housing development along the river, surrounded by trees, is within the former oppidum. My photos were taken along the soccer field at the top of the map.
Here’s a chipper little sign along a stream that feeds into the Mayenne river at Changé.
Now to Laval, where each time we visited we discovered more to like. The center of town is lively and has a pedestrian street, La grande rue, lined with half-timbered houses. Beatrix de Gavre gave a boost to the local weaving industry around 1299 which lasted till the 18th century.